Imprisoned Economy


There are a lot of us caught in the grips of the ever-worsening recession global depression– those of us in apparel and retail are definitely feeling it hard.  I’m holding out hope that come April the economy will start to “Spring” back with new optimism.  But now I’m hearing of more imminent lay-offs and cutbacks coming down the pipeline.  It might have you feeling imprisoned in a way you’ve never felt before.  

A good friend shared a story with me yesterday–  his brother was giving a talk and the economy came up (2.8 trillion dollar deficit, btw).  In the audience was a guy formerly of the Securities and Exchange Commission.  When asked where he would put his money, his answer was “Gold and a shotgun.”  Nice.  

But there is something you can do if you find yourself laid-off and seemingly without prospects.  In a market where luxury is currently a dirty word, we do have the luxury of time, energy, experience and relationships.  Us little guys can turn on a dime, and create new models and paradigms faster than the large corporations that are currently focusing on how to stop the bleeding.  New thinking, energy, excitement and products will go a long way towards dragging us out of this, and then hopefully the banks will start to follow in time.  The economic turnaround will only start by us pulling ourselves out of our mental rut first.  

Because my mind works in  strange ways, this all got me thinking about economic life in an actual prison.  It’s important that we keep our circumstances in perspective– it can always be worse…

san quentin

In 1959, shopping was big in San Quentin-

The institutional man in blue denim in San Quentin prison is as affected by Madison Avenue in his buying as the organizational man on the outside. The preferences show up in the canteen, located in the yard inside San Quentin’s walls. Without neon signs, without daily special placards advertising its wares, the prison canteen does more than a $1,000 a day in business among a captive clientele of 5,003 inmates privileged to pick and choose from 310 varieties of name items. No straight razors, scissors or files are stocked, but besides cigarettes and candy, which are the two big sellers, everything from perfumed hair oil to wristwatches is available to the prisoner with a good conduct card and his “draw.” Each man at the “Q” whose privileges have not been suspended gets $18 a month drawn from his earnings in the prison shop or from money he has received from outside. The canteen is open every day except Friday, when its manager and nine inmate clerks restock the shelves. A three-carton limit on cigarettes is imposed because, to inmates, cigarettes are like money. They can be used in lieu of cash for gambling. Convicts make coffee in their cells without boiling water. Hot tap water will do. Toothpaste and soap are other big sellers. Though the state provides tooth powder and prison-issue soap, inmates prefer name brands. And what about the inmate with no purchasing power? Well, at least he can smoke, thanks to the state of California. Since San Quentin opened in 1852, prisoners have been issued free sacks of tobacco and papers so they can roll their own.


san quentin

An inmate at San Quentin making cafeteria trays for the military, 1942.

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Inmates at San Quentin unloading a large load of copper cable for salvaging from Pearl Harbor, 1942.

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A San Quentin inmate winding jute, 1942.

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Inmates at San Quentin unloading jute from trucks, 1942.

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An inmate at San Quentin repairing shoes for the Navy and the state guard, 1942.

prison workout

Prisoners at San Quentin weightlifting in prison yard during recreation period, 1947.  Perfect imagery for the Dsquared2 Spring / Summer 2009 fashion ad campaign.

prison fashion apparel clothing

Prison fashion, 1951.


Article from The San Francisco Chronicle

12 thoughts on “Imprisoned Economy

  1. Incredible piece. I loved reading this and applying it to my own life as well as those close to me. Great stuff!

  2. JP,
    great post. I agree completely. Large institutions stumbles and hiccups (or even demises) create opportunities for the nimble and creative. Well i hope so at leeast.

    p.s. i like the new format a lot.

  3. Great stuff! Love the deep pocket/wide leg prison jeans of the 40’s/50’s….anyone know where to fetch a pair (besides eBay)?

  4. Great article and pictures, makes me wonder if these guys took their prison work as serious as a real job, it looks like it in these pictures.

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